The following story ran in The Globe and Mail newspaper:
Samantha Foldi faces life as a widow from her wheelchair. For nearly 10 years, since a car accident left her partially paralyzed, she relied on her husband Jim for so much. He quit his construction job to help with her rehab and to care for their four children. He once rescued them from a fire, lowering his wife to safety out a bedroom window.
Mr. Foldi, 39, died last summer — after a late-night confrontation with police. Officers fired a 50,000-volt taser stun gun 12 times during the struggle; it’s not known how many times he was hit.
The province’s Special Investigations Unit, the civilian body that probes fatal incidents involving police, said last week that the police are not criminally responsible for his death.
Mr. Foldi is one of 13 people in Canada to have died after being hit with a stun gun. Amnesty International has called for police to stop using the devices; Ontario’s deputy chief coroner says they’re a safe alternative to deadly force.
In an interview last week, Ms. Foldi, 35, sat at the dining room table she and Jim shared with their children in Beamsville, Ont., halfway between Hamilton and St. Catharines. Photos of her husband, a huge, square-jawed man with the look of a tough-guy actor, were spread in front of her. Her body shook when she spoke, and the effort of forming the words gave her voice the sound of a slow, southern drawl.
“It’s hard all the time now without Jim,” she said. “It took my man from me. I’m just really confused why they did that.”
Mr. Foldi, 6 foot 2, 250 pounds, began behaving erratically at 2:40 a.m. last Canada Day, prompting several 911 calls to Niagara Regional Police, the SIU says. He ran to a house on Crescent Drive, a half block from his home, pounded on the door and shouted, “Help me.”
He ran to a second home and smashed a window, cutting his hand badly. Bleeding, he entered another home just as police arrived. Two officers followed him into the home and one fired an X-26 taser once. The SIU says the probes did not remain in or on Mr. Foldi’s body.
Mr. Foldi leaped from a first-floor window. When the officers confronted him again, he ignored orders to give up. They pepper-sprayed him twice, and he tried to run away. Three officers grabbed him and fought to subdue him.
During the three-minute struggle, one officer discharged his taser 11 times, using what’s known as a drive stun technique, where the device is pressed against a person and fired. Mr. Foldi fell to the ground and was handcuffed. He started breathing heavily, lost consciousness and never recovered.
The SIU says police were justified in using force to arrest Mr. Foldi.
His family is furious.
“That’s the biggest letdown. How can you justify using a taser 12 times?” asked Mr. Foldi’s younger brother, Steven.
“He was a threat to nobody. He didn’t have a weapon on him. An injured man asking for help, and this is the response?”
A coroner’s inquest will eventually be asked to determine what killed Mr. Foldi.
The SIU says he had a potentially lethal amount of an illegal substance in his system. Foldi family members have been told it was cocaine.
They say they didn’t know about his drug use, and they were in Hamilton the night he died, but they reject the idea of an overdose.
“If he overdosed he would’ve been doing the chicken dance on the floor,” Ms. Foldi said.
The SIU report says that during the struggle Mr. Foldi showed “phenomenal strength,” one of the signs frequently ascribed to a state known as excited delirium.
Excited delirium is not a medical diagnosis but a term forensics experts use to describe a combination of signs and symptoms that can lead to sudden death. It is usually associated with cocaine use, but can be connected to psychiatric illness or acute alcohol withdrawal.
“People in excited delirium are impervious to pain and they have superhuman strength and they need to be subdued for their safety and the safety of others,” Jim Cairns, Ontario’s deputy chief coroner, said. Often, even several officers are unable to bring a person in that state under control, he said.
“After this huge fight that often goes on, they suddenly go quiet and tranquil. It seems as though they’re getting a second wind. In fact, they’re not. They’re dying at that point,” Dr. Cairns said. The cause of death is often an irregular heartbeat brought on by abnormalities in blood chemistry, he said.
Dr. Cairns said tasers can mitigate the need to resort to deadly force.
A probe fired from a taser delivers 50,000 volts, usually overwhelming a person’s nervous system and sending muscles into uncontrollable contractions.
But if it’s used in drive stun mode, although it emits the same amount of electrical energy, it can’t cause a neuromuscular response.
“It’s not effective at all if someone’s in a state of excited delirium,” Dr. Cairns said.
Guidelines suggest you shouldn’t use the drive stun mode any more than necessary, he said, adding there’s no evidence it can kill.
The Niagara police, who had been using tasers for only a week when the Foldi incident took place, said they couldn’t comment while a coroner’s inquest is pending.
Ms. Foldi had hoped for answers from the SIU probe. Now the family will consider launching a lawsuit.
“Not for the money, but we can’t let them get away with it,” she said. “Jim is gone. It’s like a part of my heart is, too.”
Admitted to both the California State Bar and the Florida State Bar, Joseph Saunders has also practiced in the United States District Court and the United States Court of Appeals. His philosophy is to provide aggressive, quality representation and seek fair compensation for individuals and their families who have suffered injury or death at the hands of insurance companies, large corporations, medical providers or governmental entities.